Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that stimulates the body’s own immune responses to combat illnesses.

Mesothelioma immunotherapy can provide patients with another tool in the fight against this disease. Coupled with other treatments, immunotherapy can help patients live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

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How Immunotherapy Treats Mesothelioma

Mesothelioma only has one known cause: asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is the most well-known type of cancer caused by asbestos, but asbestos toxicity can also cause asbestosis and lung and other types of cancer.

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, it is still treatable. To better understand how immunotherapy works to treat mesothelioma, it’s important to understand the differences between active and passive immunity.

a patient sits in a chair and receives chemotherapy

Active immunity occurs when a person is exposed to a disease organism and the immune system is triggered into producing antibodies. This can occur naturally or through the use of vaccines.

Passive immunity occurs when a person is given antibodies to a disease organism rather than producing with their own immune system.

Most types of immunotherapy utilize passive immunity as a means of fighting cancer. For this reason, immunotherapy is often considered a second-line treatment for mesothelioma.

Different Forms of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

There are a few different types of immunotherapy available for the treatment of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma Vaccines

Mesothelioma vaccines and other cancer vaccines are used to strengthen the immune system and improve the way it identifies, responds to, and destroys cancer cells.

Preventive vaccines are in the works for cancer, although these are still in the clinical trials stage.

Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Medications

Immune checkpoints are a natural part of the body’s immune system. They work to keep the immune system from destroying healthy cells in addition to cancerous cells.

Medications known as immune checkpoint inhibitors help the immune system locate and target cancerous cells hiding within these checkpoints. These medications are often first-line treatments for mesothelioma and other cancers.

Specific checkpoints that are usually targeted with this type of immunotherapy include PD-1, PD-L1, and CTLA-4.

Types of immune checkpoint inhibitor medications used for mesothelioma include:

  • Ipilimumab (Yervoy)
  • Nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • Durvalumab (Imfinzi)
  • Tremelimumab (Imfinzi)
  • Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
  • Bevacizumab (Avastin)

Cytokine Injections

Cytokines are types of small proteins which help a person’s immune system by affecting the growth of blood cells and other immune cells like T cells and dendritic cells.

These important proteins can also help with the treatment of cancer by sending signals that make abnormal, or cancerous, cells die and make normal, healthy cells live longer.

CAR-T Cell Therapy

Adoptive cell transfer therapies use immune cells to treat cancer patients. These therapies have been effective in treating melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.

Chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy (CAR-T) employs T cells that have been genetically altered in a lab to destroy mesothelioma cancer cells. Because the new T cells are new, they have a different receptor that allows them to bind to cancerous cells and kill them. CAR-T cell therapy involves drawing your blood, sending it to the lab where the new T cells will be developed, then giving you an infusion containing these new cells.

Monoclonal Antibody Infusions

Monoclonal antibodies work by targeting specific proteins, enzymes, or antigens that are found within cancer cells.

These medications are produced in labs and are often used in combination with radiation therapy or chemotherapy to increase their effectiveness.

Immunotherapy in Mesothelioma Treatment Programs

The most effective mesothelioma treatments often include multiple treatments in unison. This treatment approach is known as multimodal therapy.

Common treatments for mesothelioma include the following.

Chemotherapy Programs

Chemotherapy uses specific medications to attack cancerous cells and either kill them or prevent them from further dividing.

Immunotherapy, on the other hand, works by boosting a person’s own immune system and improving the way that it fights off cancer.

When used in combination, standard chemotherapy can help the natural immune system to better recognize and address cancerous cells as the chemotherapy drugs fight them off.

Types of chemotherapy medications used for treating mesothelioma include:

  • Cisplatin
  • Gemcitabine
  • Pemetrexed

Mesothelioma Surgery

a group of doctors gather around a table to conduct a surgery

Immunotherapy is sometimes used in combination with mesothelioma surgery, typically post-surgery.

When immunotherapy is used after a successful mesothelioma surgery, it can greatly reduce the chances of cancer returning.

Immunotherapy does this by helping the body to recognize and fight off new cancer cells as they appear and before they have a chance to grow.

Virotherapy Programs

Virotherapy in cancer treatment uses genetically modified viruses to target cells that are diseased and cancerous.

This type of therapy can be used alongside immunotherapy by helping the body’s immune system to locate and target the abnormal and cancerous cells.

What Are the Benefits of Mesothelioma Immunotherapy?

While some types of mesothelioma immunotherapy are still being studied, the potential benefits are already clear.

Benefits of mesothelioma immunotherapy include

  • Strengthens the body’s natural immune response
  • Does not attack healthy cells in addition to cancerous cells or tumor cells
  • Has fewer and less severe side effects than other forms of cancer treatment
  • Can lower the chances of cancer recurrence after treatment

The Most Effective Immunotherapies for Mesothelioma

Currently, the most effective form of cancer immunotherapy for mesothelioma patients is immune checkpoint inhibitor therapies.

In 2020, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved both Yervoy and Opdivo as checkpoint inhibitor medications to be used in the treatment of mesothelioma. Both of these medications work to treat malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM).

As of April 2024, Opdivo and Yervoy are the only immunotherapy drugs approved by the FDA as first-line treatments for pleural mesothelioma.

Other types of medications for mesothelioma are still being researched or in clinical trials, but are expected to be approved for mesothelioma cancer patients in coming years.

Can Immunotherapy Affect Your Mesothelioma Prognosis?

Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of cancer which typically carries a poor prognosis for the vast majority of patients.

With the right treatments, however, a mesothelioma prognosis can improve.

To determine how effective immunotherapy is for your specific type of mesothelioma, your healthcare professional may measure certain biomarkers (signs of treatment effectiveness).

Peritoneal mesothelioma is considered the easiest type of mesothelioma to treat, and usually also carries the best prognosis.

You can find out more about mesothelioma treatments and how to improve your quality of life and prognosis while battling this disease. Our free veterans packet is a great place to start.

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Side Effects of Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Mesothelioma immunotherapy generally has less side effects than other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Unlike these types of therapy, immunotherapy does not attack healthy cells in addition to cancerous cells.

Immunotherapy can still have side effects, though they vary in type and severity depending on the type of immunotherapy.

Possible side effects of mesothelioma immunotherapy include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea
  • Congestion
  • Inflammation

A specific type of side effects patients undergoing mesothelioma immunotherapy may experience is called immune-related adverse events, or irAEs, such as skin reactions or thyroid inflammation.

For these reactions, you may be prescribed immunosuppressants or corticosteroid medications.

Cost of Immunotherapy for Mesothelioma

$150k - $200k
Cost of Some Immune
Checkpoint Inhibitors
per year, according to Reuters

In some cases, medications and treatments may be covered by a person’s health insurance.

Additionally, many people who developed mesothelioma from work or military service may be eligible to file claims with asbestos trust funds for help with their medical costs.

If treatment costs are a concern, remember that mesothelioma's only known cause is asbestos, and the dangers of asbestos were hidden for decades. Because of this, you may be owed compensation. Find out about the trust funds asbestos companies set up to compensate people hurt by their dishonesty — you could get money to cover treatment and lost wages.

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  • Over $30 Billion Available
  • Get Money in 90 Days or Less
  • Financial Security

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Mesothelioma Immunotherapies in Clinical Trials

Clinical trials allow researchers to test the safety and effectiveness of new medications in people, helping determine if they can be safely and effectively used within the general population.

The Mayo Clinic currently lists 30 clinical trials for malignant mesothelioma patients to join, if eligible.

One promising new form of immunotherapy for mesothelioma undergoing clinical trials is the use of lymphocytes or white blood cells that can invade cancerous tumors.

Get Help With Finding Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

A mesothelioma diagnosis can be terrifying and devastating, but help is available. Here, you can locate healthcare providers who specialize in the treatment of mesothelioma, and find clinical trials to take part in.

You may be able to file a mesothelioma claim for compensation if you were diagnosed with mesothelioma as a direct result of exposure in the workplace or in the U.S. military.

Please contact us today at (855) 354-5833 with any questions you have about treatment options or to find mesothelioma cancer centers.

FAQs About Mesothelioma Immunotherapy

Can mesothelioma be treated with immunotherapy?

Yes, immunotherapy has been shown to be effective for mesothelioma and other types of cancers, although it will not work the same for all patients.

Current cancer research suggests that immunotherapy is most effective against mesothelioma when used in combination with other treatment options like surgery and chemotherapy.

Does mesothelioma immunotherapy work the same for everyone?

While mesothelioma immunotherapy has been shown to be effective for many, this is not the case for everyone.

Factors that can influence how well immunotherapy works are the person’s age and gender, how far their cancer has progressed, and the other types of treatment they are undergoing.

For instance, a study published by Lancet Oncology in 2018 found that checkpoint inhibitor medications were twice as effective when used on men than on women.

What is the success rate of immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Currently, the survival rate for mesothelioma is 80% after one year for all types of mesothelioma combined.

Immunotherapy can improve these numbers, especially with the recent FDA approval of certain mesothelioma treatments and medications.

Clinical trials have shown 41% of mesothelioma patients treated with Yervoy and Opdivo to still be alive after two years. This puts the median overall survival rate for patients treated with these immune checkpoint inhibitors at 18.1 months.

Only 27% of mesothelioma patients were still alive when treated with chemotherapy alone.

Can immunotherapy help mesothelioma go into remission?

Immunotherapy has been shown to help mesothelioma patients go into remission, meaning that their cancer is no longer detectable from tests and scans.

Complete remission from mesothelioma is currently very rare. With further research and improved treatments, mesothelioma remission may become more common.

Are there any risks of immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Immunotherapy is generally considered safe. Some of the serious side effects can include inflammation of vital organs.

The organs which are most at risk for inflammation are the lungs and kidneys, although the colon and liver can also be affected.

Anyone considering immunotherapy for mesothelioma treatment should always discuss the benefits and risks with their medical team.

Where can you find immunotherapy for mesothelioma?

Because mesothelioma is such an aggressive type of cancer, it is usually best treated by doctors who specialize in mesothelioma treatment, including treatment with immunotherapy.

There are healthcare providers who treat mesothelioma around the United States, and you can locate a top-quality mesothelioma doctor near you.

Fill out our contact form or call us at (877) 450-8973 when you are ready to get started.

Veterans Support Team
Mesothelioma Veterans Center PhotoWritten by:

Veterans Support Team

The Mesothelioma Veterans Center editorial team consists of experienced veterans, family members and medical professionals.